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Waiting Tables: 3 Twin Cities Restaurants Prepare For Return Of Dine-In Service

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- For the first time in months, Minnesotans can enjoy a meal inside a restaurant again as owners reopened at 50% capacity this week.

As part of WCCO's series "Waiting Tables," Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield checks in for the third time with three restaurants that are now ready to serve.

What would have once been a moderate lunch crowd is now cause for full-on celebration at Red Cow in Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood. Michael Giacomini, who helps manage Red Cow/Red Rabbit Restaurant group, says it's been a long three months.

"We went from being 99% dine-in and 1% takeout, to 100% takeout overnight," Giacomini said.

They had to lay off 340 of their 400-person staff, and they are now slowly hiring back.

"We're kind of getting mixed messages. Some don't want to come back yet, others are like, 'Yep, I do because I know you're gonna be clean,'" Giacomini said.

Crystal Lade is one of the employees who says she feels safe and ready.

"So happy to be back. I'd say that we're all in this industry because we're people-people, so it's been really weird like not having people in here," Lade said.

They're working at half capacity, and asking for some extra grace. They have opened five of their six locations, and hope to open their sixth soon in Uptown.

"Things are gonna be a little different right now. Like our hours are gonna be shorter, the service might be a little bit slower, right, because we don't have as many people as we normally would have, so I would say, you know, patience," Giacomini said.

East of the cities in Stillwater, Leo's Grill & Malt Shop owner Cory Buettner is excited he doesn't have to be patient any longer.

READ MORE: A List Of Minnesota Restaurants Reopening For Outdoor Dining

"It feels great to be open again," Buettner said.

Leo's dining room is seating five out of 13 tables. Buettner credits the city for allowing him to create a patio out of parking spaces, and he credits his staff for helping keep him afloat.

"Our motto was, 'We're too small to fail.' We can adjust, we can change, we can adapt," Buettner said. "All those changes and all those modifications have led us to where we are today, which is we're starting to thrive."

And in northeast Minneapolis, PinKU owner Xiaoteng Huang says he never thought he'd be where he is today.

"We just had to be innovative to act quickly, to adapt to the recent changes," Huang said.

Like restructuring their dining room, making it a low-touch environment and coming up with an impromptu patio.

"We don't have any time to buy patio furniture, so we literally moved some tables and some chairs outside and created a little area for patio seating," Huang said. "I borrowed an umbrella from my mom."

If you want to dine in at PinKU, you have to wear a mask and get your temperature taken. Huang says even though he never closed, he took a hit to his bottom line. But his first day of in-house dining was hopeful.

"Our sales were on par with our sales prior to the pandemic," Huang said.

Each of the restaurants say they plan to keep fighting, as they are finally ready to serve.

Owners suggest checking their social media accounts because they're adjusting and changing hours and reservation capacity daily.

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